John Femenia, a banker in Wells Fargo's industrials investment banking group, misused his position to supply material, nonpublic information about mergers and acquisitions involving clients to friends who traded on the information over a roughly two-and-a-half-year period beginning in March 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission alleged Wednesday in a civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C.
Femenia's friends allegedly conveyed the information to their friends and family members, who traded on it as well. In all, the SEC charged ten people with misconduct.
"Here you have an investment banker who clearly knew better that inside information can't form the basis of trading decisions," William Hicks, associate director for enforcement in the SEC's Atlanta regional office, said in a news release. "Instead he basically started a phone tree of nonpublic information to enrich friends and others."
The SEC, which said it has obtained a court order freezing the defendants' assets, has asked the court to order the defendants to return their allegedly unlawful profits and to pay civil penalties.
Femenia did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
"We learned about the underlying allegations [Tuesday] and are assisting and fully cooperating with the SEC and other agencies in these proceedings," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Elise Wilkinson said in an email.
Wilkinson, who said Wells Fargo has placed Femenia on leave, added that the company has a "zero-tolerance policy" for the misuse of nonpublic information.
According to the SEC's complaint, Femenia, 30, worked for Wells Fargo in Charlotte until May, when he transferred to one of the company's offices in Manhattan.
Though Wells Fargo had policies that obligated Femenia to safeguard nonpublic information about the bank's clients, Femenia allegedly gave information about four deals that had yet to be publicly announced to at least three friends, who either used the information to place profitable trades or provided the information to others who traded based on it.
At least one friend provided some of his profits to Femenia in return for the information, and some traders kicked back some of their profits, according to the SEC.